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'Situation Was Horrible': Chilean Activist Says Pinochet's Economic Miracle 'Totally False'

© AP Photo / Enrique AracenaIn this Aug. 23, 1973 file photo, Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet, left, and President Salvador Allende, attend a ceremony naming Pinochet as commander in chief of the Army. Chile marks the 45th anniversary of the coup led by Pinochet overthrowing Allende, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2018.
In this Aug. 23, 1973 file photo, Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet, left, and President Salvador Allende, attend a ceremony naming Pinochet as commander in chief of the Army. Chile marks the 45th anniversary of the coup led by Pinochet overthrowing Allende, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2018. - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.09.2023
Monday marks 50 years since the Chilean military, led by Augusto Pinochet, overthrew democratically-elected President Salvador Allende, destroying the democratic socialist experiment and ushering in a dictatorship that killed thousands and disappeared thousands more.
Allende had been elected three years earlier in a stunning victory, but even before the votes were cast, the US was already trying to sabotage Allende’s rise. A week after the victory, then-US President Richard Nixon ordered CIA Director Richard Helms to “make the economy scream” in Chile to “prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him,” and a campaign of sabotage and assassinations was unleashed, aided by powerful US companies with assets in Chile who opposed the socialist government in Santiago.
A march to commemorate Allende, who was killed by soldiers storming the presidential palace during the coup, and other victims of Pinochet, was greeted with police violence in Santiago on Sunday. Video posted on social media even showed tear gas being deployed at the Santiago General Cemetery to disperse the marchers, who could be seen darting between graves to escape. The cemetery is the final resting place for more than two million individuals, including Allende.
Patricio Zamorano, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, told Radio Sputnik on Monday that 50 years later, “the police in Chile still have a very strongly conservative vibe."
"They have very low support by the population. There is a huge movement to eliminate the police, very similar to what you see in the US, because the police in Chile were responsible for many abuses of human rights, and they continued that repression in the 1990s, 2000s," Zamorano said. "Torture, rape, corruption. So it’s not a surprise they overreacted and started gassing protesters trying to honor Salvador Allende.”
Zamorano noted that official investigations in recent decades have revealed what both Santiago and Washington had long denied: that the US government played a pivotal role in supporting Pinochet’s preparations for the coup and weakening Allende’s government.
“The participation of the government of the US in the Chilean coup d’etat is absolutely documented, and the fact that the CIA was working very avidly before Salvador Allende was elected. There are a bunch of declassified documents that prove with absolutely no doubt the illegal and clandestine involvement of … the CIA, President Nixon, with the help and advice of Henry Kissinger, and the whole apparatus of the CIA structure … not to let Chileans elect democratically the socialist Salvador Allende.”
“So we know that Salvador Allende was condemned even before he was elected, the US government of Richard Nixon was not going to allow that government to survive, and that’s exactly what happened. They did everything they could to stop the election first, and later on they financed, they helped the military personnel to organize a coup d’etat.”
Chilean President Gabriel Boric, right, shakes hands with his newly-named Foreign Affairs Minister Albert van Klaveren, as Interior Minister Carolina Toha looks on, right, at La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Friday, March 10, 2023.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 10.03.2023
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Still, polls show wide support for Pinochet today. One by Al Jazeera found that 36% of Chileans see the September 11, 1973, coup as “justifiable,” while another poll found that 40% see it as incorrect to call Pinochet a “dictator.”
A narrative popular in the West at the time and even today is that despite his murderous repression of the left and of critics, Pinochet’s free market reforms, implemented at the behest of a group of right-wing US economists called the “Chicago Boys” because they followed University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, had nonetheless yielded huge economic benefits.
Zamorano noted it is always important to ask which people benefited and which did not.

“The narrative of the 'Chilean Miracle' is false. It is true that in very specific microeconomic parameters, Chile did relatively well in comparison to the rest of the continent, especially under the crisis of the 1980s - we have to remember there was a huge recession during those years that started in the US and the whole oil industry. But the situation in the country in terms of unemployment was critical, the poverty levels increased.”

“And the other side of that narrative is the fact that Chile is one of the most unequal countries in the world - in the top three - which means the rich people got so much richer and the poor people got so much poorer under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.”
© AP PhotoStatesman Henry Kissinger and US President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office of the White House, 1973
Государственный деятель Генри Киссинджер и президент США Ричард Никсон в Овальном кабинете в Белом доме, 1973 год - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.09.2023
Statesman Henry Kissinger and US President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office of the White House, 1973
Zamorano added that he lived in Chile as a child in the 1980s and that “the situation was horrible. We had hunger, chronic lack of employment, the situation was extremely bad.”
“We have to remember also that the Chicago Boys’ neoliberal policies were implemented without control in Chile, because the dictatorship controlled everything. We didn’t have an independent supreme court system, we didn’t have Congress, so the Pinochet regime implemented all these aggressive neoliberal policies without any restrictions of a real democracy. So, Pinochet privatized the health system, the education system, the pension system. It meant that a huge percentage of the population that didn’t have enough income had a horrible life in Chile.”
“We are still victims of that situation,” he added. “That is why we had this whole constitutional movement to create a new constitution to replace the constitution approved by the dictatorship.”
Zamorano noted that today, Chile remains “a center-right country. We still have people who support Pinochet.” He noted that across Latin America, between 20% and 30% of the population in polls say they are willing to tolerate a right-wing government if it leads to improvements in their quality of life, according to polls.
He added it was “exactly the same” as how so many Americans support former US President Donald Trump.
Indeed, Zamorano noted that while there was an immense “historic” struggle to win the right to write a new constitution and that leftists make up nearly 80% of the deputies sent to the constituent assembly to draft it, the population nonetheless rejected the proposed constitution in a referendum.
Demonstrators march with makeshift shields during a protest against President Dina Boluarte's government and Congress, in Arequipa, Peru, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023. Wednesday marks the resumption of protests against Boluarte that followed the ouster of her predecessor, Pedro Castillo, after he tried to dissolve Congress. - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.05.2023
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“The fact that it was rejected meant that the right-wing sectors of Chile have more leverage,” Zamorano said. In new elections this past May, the far-right Republican Party of José Antonio Kast, the son of a Nazi German military officer who has cast himself as Pinochet’s successor, won the largest political bloc in the constituent assembly.

“The left had to learn a lot of lessons from that process,” Zamorano noted.
Zamorano said it was “absolutely not true” that the US’ days of orchestrating coups in Latin America have long since passed, pointing to the ongoing blockade of Cuba.
“At the United Nations every single year, the majority of the planet - except a couple of countries, mostly the US and Israel - always condemns the embargo against Cuba. They are absolutely doing something against international law, these unilateral sanctions that don’t make any sense.” He also recalled the ongoing US sanctions against Venezuela and Nicaragua as well.
“So yeah, times have changed, but the illegal practices of the US government are still exactly the same,” Zamorano said. “So I would say that the Chilean coup d’etat was just an example of a whole historic set of policies that are attacking any government that the United States perceives as too progressive in a way that is going to create a situation where the US has less influence in those countries.”
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